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[dif-uh-ren-shuh l] /ˌdɪf əˈrɛn ʃəl/
of or relating to difference or diversity.
constituting a difference; distinguishing; distinctive:
a differential feature.
exhibiting or depending upon a difference or distinction.
Physics, Machinery. pertaining to or involving the difference of two or more motions, forces, etc.
Mathematics. pertaining to or involving a derivative or derivatives.
a difference or the amount of difference, as in rate, cost, quantity, degree, or quality, between things that are comparable.
Also called differential gear. Machinery. an epicyclic train of gears designed to permit two or more shafts to rotate at different speeds, as a set of gears in an automobile permitting the rear wheels to be driven at different speeds when the car is turning.
  1. a function of two variables that is obtained from a given function, y = f (x), and that expresses the approximate increment in the given function as the derivative of the function times the increment in the independent variable, written as dy = f′ (x) dx.
  2. any generalization of this function to higher dimensions.
  1. the difference involved in a differential rate.
  2. differential rate.
Physics. the quantitative difference between two or more forces, motions, etc.:
a pressure differential.
Origin of differential
1640-50; < Medieval Latin differentiālis, equivalent to differenti(a) difference + ālis -al
Related forms
differentially, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for differential
  • Top photo shows the flywheel-hybrid system mounted to the rear differential.
  • Note that nothing in the last paragraph of the article explains the private-public gap or the change in the differential.
  • The differential in wage growth has been more dramatic still.
  • Nevertheless, the big pharmaceutical companies are moving towards some form of differential pricing.
  • The differential diagnosis is sometimes tricky and requires a thorough history.
  • The power differential between you and your advisor is vast and not in your favor.
  • Instead, folding could be driven by coordinated differential growth.
  • When protégé and mentors are too close, their differential status can muddle things.
  • Newton's laws--only really understood as a differential equation.
  • There is a high level of variability and differential ratios in levels of estrogen and progesterones in birth control pills.
British Dictionary definitions for differential


of, relating to, or using a difference
constituting a difference; distinguishing
(maths) of, containing, or involving one or more derivatives or differentials
(physics, engineering) relating to, operating on, or based on the difference between two effects, motions, forces, etc: differential amplifier
a factor that differentiates between two comparable things
  1. an increment in a given function, expressed as the product of the derivative of that function and the corresponding increment in the independent variable
  2. an increment in a given function of two or more variables, f(x1, x2, …xn), expressed as the sum of the products of each partial derivative and the increment in the corresponding variable
an epicyclic gear train that permits two shafts to rotate at different speeds while being driven by a third shaft See also differential gear
(mainly Brit) the difference between rates of pay for different types of labour, esp when forming a pay structure within an industry
(in commerce) a difference in rates, esp between comparable labour services or transportation routes
Derived Forms
differentially, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for differential

1640s, from Medieval Latin differentialis, from Latin differentia (see difference). Related: Differentially.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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differential in Science
  1. An infinitesimal increment in a variable.

  2. The product of the derivative of a function of one variable and the increment of the independent variable.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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